"Do you dance?" Arthur asked suddenly, which was something of a surprise considering he'd been moaning about his father for the last half an hour.
Merlin's brain briefly came to a bewildered stop.
"Dance," Arthur said, making the word sound like some sort of terrible disease. "Do you know how?"
"I don't think so," Merlin said carefully. More than a little disturbed as to where Arthur was going with that. "At least, probably not on purpose."
Arthur made one of his, less attractive, long suffering noises and waved a hand.
"Why?" Merlin asked suspiciously.
"Just come here."
Merlin sighed and pushed his legs under him, obediantly went to where Arthur was still standing with his hands on his hips.
"Put your hand on my waist."
Merlin was certain he'd misheard Arthur for a long confusing second.
Rather than repeat himself, Arthur caught Merlin's wrist, dragged his hand up and laid it over the fold of his shirt. Then he snatched his other hand up and just held it in mid-air, like he expected something to swoop past and grab them both.
"Umm." They were both equally strange sensations, since Merlin really wasn't used to just randomly holding another man's hand, for any reason, at all. Arthur had more calluses than him, a strange mixture of smooth and hard under Merlin's fingers. Warm and dry, loose enough that he could slip out but firm enough that he could tell he wasn't supposed to.
It took him a second longer to get used to the fact that Arthur wasn't going to tell him off for being over-familiar.
"I don't think I'm built for dancing," Merlin warned him carefully. "I'm fairly sure I don't have enough legs, or possibly I have too many. I've never really investigated."
He shuffled his feet, perhaps to further demonstrate his uselessness.
"Everyone has to dance," Arthur said sharply, unhappily. "My father thinks it's civilised, and I'm not having you crashing about like some sort of drunken idiot, knocking into the guests and embarrassing me."
"You make me sound like I have some sort of terrible social balance problem!" Merlin said in what managed to sound both insulted and hurt.
Arthur tugged him a little closer.
"It's not hard, just follow me."
"Follow you where?"
"Follow you, right, I've got it," Merlin said when he secretly rather doubted that he actually did."
"And don't tread on my feet."
"What happens if I tread on your feet?"
"Don't," Arthur said flatly. Which really wasn't encouraging at all.
Merlin laughed awkwardly.
"No, but seriously, what if I do?"
Arthur raised an eyebrow and then- moved, and Merlin, rather than let Arthur try to perform the impossible feat of walking through him, tried to move as well in some sort of mutually non-falling-over sort of way.
The backwards thing wasn't particularly pleasant.
"I'm going to walk into something," Merlin said uncertainly.
"No, you're fine there's eight feet of empty space behind you. I can see where I'm going even if you can't." And it was all right for Arthur to sound so certain, since he wasn't the one likely to fall over a misaligned flagstone, and end up with a lap full of prince.
And now they were turning.
Merlin checked to make sure he was doing it right.
Arthur squeezed his hand, hard.
"Stop looking at your feet!"
"If I don't look at my feet how am I supposed to know where yours are?"
"You just are," Arthur said, like that was supposed to be helpful.
"Is this some sort of psychic power that I'm not aware of?"
Arthur let go of his hand and left him briefly flailing on his own, before coming back and sliding his hand back through his. Then making him walk backwards again.
Oddly enough he seemed to be better at that the second time, though he still didn't have a clue what he was doing.
"You're quite good at this," Merlin pointed out.
"It was a choice Merlin, either be good at it, or practice it forever."
Merlin looked at his feet again, only to have Arthur put a hand under his jaw and push his head back up.
"I'm not looking," Merlin protested, though he was probably a little late on the protestation of innocence there.
"And do stop clinging, I'm supposed to be a girl." Arthur said, which was very confusing for a minute.
"You don't really feel like a girl," Merlin said slowly, because he was very aware that Arthur was in no way either soft or delicate under his fingers. In fact every time he moved his hand, he could feel nothing but the hard line of muscle that made up Arthur's waist. And the loose material of his shirt, slip-sliding over it every time he was supposed to turn with him.
Arthur sighed, loudly, like Merlin had just proven conclusively that he was an idiot.
"Use your imagination."
"You want me to imagine you're a girl?"
Arthur glared at him.
"That was a perfectly sensible question considering I think."
"You're supposed to be learning, not asking questions."
"You'd make a fantastic teacher you know," Merlin said, with a liberal smattering of sarcasm.
"Oh do shut up," Arthur said and dropped a hand long enough to move Merlin's hands for what felt like the twentieth time.
"You don't make a very convincing girl," Merlin added honestly, but dutifully changed his grip to something that wasn't quite as Arthur-appropriate. Though it didn't help much, since Arthur stubbornly refused to be delicate in any way. Or even pretend to be. Clearly he was supposed to be the one doing all the imagining here.
If anything his own hands on Merlin's waist were tighter.
"Go round again," Arthur said, then cleared his throat, scowled and managed to derail Merlin's careful train of dancing thought, by speeding up just fractionally.
Merlin was fairly certain that he'd just trodden on Arthur's foot...or possibly feet? Because the floor was neither that soft nor moving. Though Arthur hadn't done anything immediate and painful to him, so he was going to go on pretending that it hadn't happened.
He thought he was doing quite well until Arthur let go of his hand and stepped sideways and he ended up flailing with an arm and a leg with no clue about where he was going next. Until Arthur stopped him moving with a put upon sigh, and steered him back where he was supposed to be standing-
And now apparently turning.
"This is hard without music," Merlin pointed out.
"Bow," Arthur commanded, and that part Merlin could do, Arthur pulled him upright again and then didn't force him to do anything immediately complicated.
"Now turn and put both hands on my waist."
Rather than be yelled at again Merlin put both hands were he guessed they were supposed to be, fingers more in the red fabric of Arthur's shirt than actually curled round his waist, and Arthur was scowling, like he'd done it wrong already, when as far as he could tell he hadn't...yet.
"Now turn me," Arthur said, and for a moment Merlin wasn't quite sure what he meant, but it seemed to involve being much closer than was really practical. Arthur made a noise, that was probably annoyed, and then smacked one of his hands, suggesting that it wasn't anywhere close to in the right place.
"Am I supposed to lift you?" Merlin asked through what was perilously close to a laugh.
"You could try."
"You'll hurt me if I do won't you."
"Absolutely," Arthur was, for one long second wearing the ghost of a smile, but it was gone just as quickly, and the prodding and scowling and smacking was back.
"Now, let go of that hand and walk behind me, but don't let go of my other hand."
Merlin tried to follow the command and ended up with his arm in the air, feeling vaguely bewildered and very stupid.
"Keep going." Arthur's hand slid off of his back and pushed him the rest of the way.
"Oh," Merlin managed not to get tangled up and ended up somewhere that could, very generously, be called 'where he started.'
"I did it!" Merlin couldn't help the ridiculous amount of surprised satisfaction there.
Arthur didn't look half as impressed as Merlin felt.
"Congratulations," he said slowly. "That was utterly woeful."
"It's my first go," Merlin said, because he felt that was fair. "No one's brilliant on their first go."
Arthur gave him a look.
"I bet you weren't brilliant either, you're a prince, people have to tell you you're brilliant even when you're rubbish."
"Are you going to dance or are you going to complain?"
Merlin sighed loudly, making Arthur's hair flick about.
"I don't think anyone I danced with could be as bossy as you."
Arthur looked tempted to tread on his feet.
"Anyway I probably won't dance at all. I mean I don't plan on doing any dancing, at least not without being told to. There isn't compulsory dancing is there?" The idea was wrong enough that he missed a step and may have, just a little bit, completely accidentally kicked Arthur in the shin.
Arthur's hand tightened on his.
"Sorry," he said, and he meant it, he really did.
Then he was fairly sure the next bit was the part where Arthur pulled him in, then stepped back, So Merlin could walk round him again.
Only Arthur's hand didn't move after it pulled him in, it stayed curled round his waist, where Merlin's shirt had come untucked, leaving it bunched up. And Arthur's fingers were laid against bare skin, and not moving at all.
"What? What did I do wrong?" Arthur was wearing that startled, half-confused look he sometimes wore when he didn't quite know what was going on. "Arthur?"
The door creaked sharply and they both turned.
Morgana was stood, unexpected and regal, in the open doorway, pale in the candlelight and smiling widely.
"Oh, don't let me stop you," she said through a smile.
Arthur pulled his hands off of Merlin abruptly, and stepped back. Expression immediately shuttered, like Morgana had walked in on them doing something considerably more incriminating. Merlin was embarrassed but he wasn't quite sure why.
Also, he felt stupid with his arms held out, so he put them down.
If anything Morgana smiled at him harder.